Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


49th Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2023

Event Details

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Symposium #245
Is There a Future for Behavior Analysis as a Science and a Practice?
Sunday, May 28, 2023
5:00 PM–5:50 PM
Hyatt Regency, Centennial Ballroom D
Area: PCH/VRB; Domain: Theory
Chair: Zhihui Yi (Univeristy of Illinois Chicago)
Discussant: RuthAnne Rehfeldt (Emergent Learning Center)
CE Instructor: Mark R. Dixon, Ph.D.

It has been decades since the debut of contextual behavior science. During this time a small proportion of behavior analysts have shifted their world view from a predominate Skinnerian science to a broader definition of what behavior analysis could be. Additionally, many outside the field have also embraced this modified version of behaviorism and by doing so have made significant progress in understanding the human condition. This symposium will describe the various similarities and differences in contextual and radical behaviorism and suggest that our path to a more successful future of saving the world will require movement from our past traditions.

Instruction Level: Advanced
Keyword(s): Contextual Behaviorism
Target Audience:

Behavior analysts, students, and faculty

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to: (1) describe contextual behaviorism; (2) describe the differing views on human language and cognition from a Skinnerian and contextual behaviorism perspective; (3) describe arguments for the field to evolve and embrace contextual behaviorism.

Why Contextual Behaviorism is Needed for Behavior Analysis to Assume Its Rightful Role

STEVEN C. HAYES (University of Nevada, Reno)

Skinnerian Behavior Analysis has had a major and positive impact on the world. Skinner's Radical Behaviorism got many things right, including a naturalistic approach, a focus on the importance of the individual organism, a focus on processes, the contingency as an integrated unit of analysis, insistence that behavioral development was an evolutionary process and thus that behavior analysis belonged as a part of evolutionary science, a pragmatic truth criterion, and the willingness to apply behavioral principles to scientists themselves. These positive steps were undermined, however, by a failure to appreciate what was truly new about verbal behavior, and a resulting excessive reliance on principles derived solely from non-human animals. These mistakes were amplified by a lack of clarity about the role of theory, an excessive reliance on interpretation, methodological rigidity, disconnections with evolutionary science and mainstream psychological science, and professionalization driven by principles and methods that fail to respond in a timely way to advancements within the field. The result has been increasing intellectual isolation, the practical narrowing applied behavior analysis, and a crisis of sustainability within the field. This paper will argue that these problems are self-inflicted and are unnecessary given the state of the evidence. Contextual behaviorism is a proven and robust offshoot of classical radical behaviorism and BA / ABA with a body of empirical and practical products that prove that a bright future awaits behavior analysis if it can overcome the limitation of Skinner's approach to verbal behavior, and return to its rightful role as a driving force in the development of principles that help in modification of human behavior, including with those who are highly verbally competent, and doing so with high precision, scope, and depth.


Why I Am Not a Radical Behaviorist

MARK R. DIXON (University of Illinois Chicago)

After 25 years in the field of behavior analysis, it is now time to redefine what I believe is a successful and acceptable form of behaviorism. Movement beyond the ideas of “radical” behaviorism towards a contextual world view of “contextual“ behaviorism will be necessary in order to expand the impact of this approach to human behavior in any meaningful way. All sciences progress, adapt, or die. Our field is currently at a crossroads of holding onto antiquated traditions that risk the very elimination of our field. New discoveries and robust outcomes are occurring in contextual behavior science, and it is time for the current and future generations of behaviorists to adopt a contextual behaviorism, and leave behind radical behaviorism just as we have done before with methodological behaviorism.




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